Thursday, 22 April 2010

Hopetoun House

I went for a visit to Hopetoun House (Edinburgh) on the first day of its seasonal re-opening. The estate is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen so far, not only in Scotland but, I would say, in Europe. There’s so much to enjoy: the remote and quite location -between the waterfront and the country side- helps to create a special and solemn atmosphere before leading you to the magnificent and elegant architecture from the 18th century. The grounds are designed as a traditional British park, that leaves space to nature: long, wide fields of green grass, spaces open to the wonder of the eyes, tall ancient trees that reach the sky. It is a space to be walked slowly in silence, a space for contemplation: the yellow narcissus growing here and there, the sound of the tall fountain –visible from most of the windows of the House- will lead you. The interiors are not simply aristocratic: they are put together with a rare sense of beauty and wellbeing that permeates the space. Every room has a little treasure to offer to the visitor: this could be an ancient cot, a gorgeous embroidery, a marble fireplace with wonderfully sculptured figures, or maybe a carved wooden staircase, that draws your eye to one of the few Baroque ceilings existing in Scotland. A very special art piece sits quietly in one of the public rooms downstairs, “The Adoration of the Shepherds” by the Rubens School: although most of the surface was probably painted by his helpers, some attitudes and shapes of the characters carry the distinctive mark of the Master, creating the magic that hypnotises you in front of the big canvas. Good tours are offered for those who want to know more, the guides are enthusiastic and very keen on answering every question you might ask. They suggest, and give permission, to wander around the House on your own, after the guided tour, and this was in fact a very good idea: I could have a closer look at a wonderful picture of two tigers drinking on a river side, embroidered in silk.
I took more time to browse the lovely library, full of ancient publications, and I also found some surprises:
- first of all a wonderful collection of ancient literature: Greek historians and poets find their place near Latin authors.
- a masterpiece of Italian Linguistics, the very first “Dictionary of Italian Language” (“Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca”), published in 1612 by the Crusca Academy, that officially established the rules for modern Italian and is to these days a very important Institution. The copy at Hopetoun House is dated 1623 on the spine, underneath the title, but I don’t know whether this is an original edition or a much later copy. This Dictionary served as a model for the first English, German, French and Spanish Dictionaries.
- last but not least a good selection of Official Publications, their presence probably represents the interests and official role of the family during the ex British Empire: Victor, 8th Earl and 2nd Marquess (1887-1952) was civil Lord of the Admiralty from 1922 to 1924. He chaired the Royal Commission on Agriculture in India from 1926 to 1928. In 1928 he was made a Knight of the Order of the Thistle. He chaired the committee on Indian constitutional reform in 1933 and helped formulate the Government of India Act of 1935. Following his experience in India he returned there as Viceroy and Governor General from 1936 to 1943, almost two full terms of office, making him the longest-serving Viceroy. Some of the Australian titles I could spot are “The Debates of the Australian Federal Convention” and “The Catalogue of the Parliamentary Library of Queensland”. Even more interesting for us the presence of Indian Official Publications, published by the Royal Commission on Agriculture in India and also by the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform. Also worth mentioning are the volumes published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office “India: The Transfer of Power 1942-7”.
The Library (and Archives) have been put together by generations of the Hope family, who have lived here since Hopetoun was first built (1699). There is a catalogue of the Library, and some cataloguing of the Archive (which was carried out in bundles by the NLS some years ago). Both the Library and Archives are available for consultation, by appointment through the management office (
I will end by mentioning an Indian picture hang in a corridor: two bulls are fighting surrounded by a gorgeous border of water lilies, the image was probably originally created by Ajanta and copied here by S. Ahmed in 1933.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Joy and insanity in late 19th Century India

Today I have been generating metadata for the Lunatic Asylum annual reports of Madras, 1877-1891 which will be digitised over the summer. Reading the reports more closely is a favourite part of my job.
These present interesting details of how mental illness was treated in British India at the time. The causes of insanity were divided into two main groups, physical and moral.
Physical causes included narcotic drug use, epilepsy, fever, concussion, privation (deprivation) and over-study. Grief, love and jealousy, disgrace, fear, religion and vicious habit were listed as moral causes (1882-83).

Treatment of patients (typically called lunatics or insanes until around the 1920s)emphasised "occupation, out-door exercises, good food, occasional recreation and at all times careful supervision." (1881-82, W.R. Cornish, Surgeon-General).
Occupations consisted mostly of gardening and growing food, making mats and baskets for income generation, plus upkeep of asylum grounds and clothing.

Medicinal remedies are few, as A.N. Rogers Harrison wrote in 1881: "Little specific value is attached to the curative properties of medicines...however, opium and its derivatives, bromide of potassium, hydrate of chloral...together with counter-irritation and the cold and tepid baths are all remedies that have proved of distinct service."

The image of a chained or straight-jacketed Victorian inmate is dispelled when reading these reports. Indeed, "There is no restraint during the day, however violent the patient may be; these are simply watched. At night the noisy, violent, filthy are placed in cells by themselves." (H.D. Cook, 1881)

Funds were set aside for amusements, as in 1882: "At Christmas there was the usual treat, with sport, fireworks and a band. If this concentrated joy were distributed through the year, it would do more good. Native music, sweets, jugglers and a few fireworks once a month would, at a cheap rate, give pleasure to many." (S.L. Dobie)
I will be comparing these approaches with later ones as I go through the Mental Health collection, which dates to around 1940.

(picture credit: Wellcome Images, showing Lawrence Asylum, Ootakamund, Madras (1873) and Small images of men and children, all of whom show signs of insanity (undated))

Monday, 19 April 2010

Eyjafjallajokull's volcanic ash plume - did you know...?

...that the Met Office is one of 9 Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres VAACs) around the world responsible for advising international aviation of the location and movement of clouds of volcanic ash? It's also one of only two World Area Forecast Centres ,or WAFCs, (the other is in Washington D.C.) which uses data to fulfil Annex 3 of the ICAO Convention on Civil Aviation forecasting upper level winds and temperatures to enable the most efficient use of aircraft fuel.

With Eyjafjallajokull still erupting and arguments over whether or to reopen the skies to flights, it's worth having a look at the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Association's (IFALPA) scarey but informative video of what happens to a 'plane if volcanic ash enters the engine casings...